erbie: (Edgar Eye)
[personal profile] erbie
What a fascinating time in a mother's life is having a fourth grader. I was woken up this morning by some very interesting questions.

"Mama. Mama. Mama, would you have ridden in the front of the bus?" "Huh?" "The front of the bus. You know, how I would have had to be in the back of the bus? Would you have ridden in the front?"

This led to a discussion of how back when I was born, my marriage was illegal. It took a minute for the literal mind of the nine year old to wrap around the *if I were an adult at that time* part. First thing she said was "You couldn't get married when you were born. You were a baby!"

I'm in unfamiliar territory here. I grew up as a girl and woman, but I didn't grow up as a non-white girl and woman. There's a whole lot more sexualization and exoticness assigned to an Asian female child and I didn't and don't experience that, so I don't know how to guide her through it either. Despite my girls being half white, they will grow up being assigned the ethnicity of Asian, Chinese, Other, Exotic. Given Bob's beauty, this will be compounded. I also did not grow up as a stunning beauty, so a lot of that kind of attention was not directed my way. She already gets that, and has since she was an infant. The first thing a stranger says to me when I'm out with her is how beautiful she is. I don't know how to respond most of the time. Yes, she's gorgeous, but she's also a child who deserves not to be summed up by that alone, not to have her appearance be the only thing that people notice.

I guess I don't really have a cogent point here, which kind of sums up where I am on both issues.

on 2010-09-24 07:44 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I wish I had some particularly helpful advice for you, having myself grown up as a hapa, but it is also very difficult to articulate the experience from this side of it, even as an adult.

I was raised with very, very little exposure to my dad's Filipino culture, so I didn't even have some of the cultural novelty that goes along with appearing different. Most of what I know about the Philippines and the culture I began to learn from library books when I did an independent study project about it in the 6th grade. Children, are naturally curious, and I felt like I was a little bit disappointing when someone would ask "how do you do this in YOUR [presumably different] family?" or "do you know how to say this in YOUR family's [presumably different] language?" or whatever, and my answers were not particularly culturally enlightening! (The flip side of that, also, was that the Philippines were not as well known to children as China and Japan, so I actually had some kids accusing me of making up my dad's homeland and insisting on calling me "China Girl")

I also always have this nagging question in my mind if I ever get compliments on my appearance of "Is that a real compliment, or am I being fetishized for being exotic, or otherwise being qualified or judged by some different standard as The Other?"
The question doesn't consume me, but it floats around in the back of my mind. I'm sure that is true of just about everyone who does not conform to the most mainstream, conventional standards of attractiveness, though.

You are raising your daughters to be confident, strong, sensible young women, and I think really that is the best and only way to "deal" with these issues.

on 2010-09-24 11:03 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I also always have this nagging question in my mind if I ever get compliments on my appearance of "Is that a real compliment, or am I being fetishized for being exotic, or otherwise being qualified or judged by some different standard as The Other?"

This is something that I'm sure both girls will have to deal with as well. When they're dating, will the people who are interested in them be interested in THEM as people, or interested in them as the exotic?

I think part of what I want to avoid is what you describe in not knowing much about your father's family/culture. I've been reading a lot of blogs that are mostly about trans-racial adoption, but I think a lot of the same things apply with a white mother raising multi-racial kids. I read a lot about how the adult adoptees and multi-racial people feel and felt growing up in a culture that fetishizes the "exotic" and how they've come to grips with it. the disconnection with the non-white culture is a big issue. There's a lot of confusion and anger, and I'd like to try to minimize that for my kids.

I have the advantage of very involved grandparents and aunt, but also the disadvantage of a husband who never wanted to stand out and so growing up carefully tried to erase anything that would make him different. Consequently, he knows little about Chinese culture, and also knows little about what it's like to grow up as a girl, though he's certainly learning on that front.

Another advantage is that where we live, there are lots of multi-racial kids, and lots of Chinese adoptees, so the kids are not the only one they know who isn't white. Though her three best friends are white. I'm just starting to see awareness of race and difference and awareness of the history of race relations in the US.

I'm always looking for experiences and people that can help guide the girls through this part of their childhood and adolescence that I have no frame of reference for. I'd love to have a Chinese or multi-racial woman as a mentor for the girls, someone who understands what they will be going through, especially as they move into adolescence and can really empathize.

on 2010-09-25 04:22 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I do love that you are approaching these issues so carefully and thoughtfully, and I love reading what you write about your girls. :)

My mom's approach was basically to not really address differences in my race/ethnicity at all. I believe my aunts and uncles and cousins saw past it when dealing directly with me or my sister, but also that side of my family isn't filled with the most otherwise tolerant people, and I would bring up questions to my mom about why they seemed to treat me fine but would talk about other people of other races in a negative way, and I'm sure this flustered my mom. I think she was just concerned with how we were treated, and not how we'd interpret that outside of our family eventually. I struggled with differentiating between observations or experiences of racism versus just being treated differently. As an adult, now that I've learned a little more about the nuances of social privilege (being white or male or whatever), I've been able to articulate some of the issues better and talk about it in a non-personal way with some of my family. It is an interesting topic, and I think had I stayed in the academe pursuing Sociology, I probably would have gravitated toward these issues for research purposes.

on 2010-09-24 11:28 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
FWIW, my nieces seem to be doing great. They are half-white/half-black, though both could easily "pass as black" (and often do if our family isn't around - some really "funny" stories there...) We live in a very "white" area, too, which brings even more attention to them.

My oldest niece is actually quite shy and conservative, despite the near-constant comments from strangers about her beauty as she's grown up. My second niece has heard it all, too, and while she's more outgoing, she's generally more interested in sports than make-up, yk?

Anyway, my point is that family does make a difference, in the long run. :)

on 2010-09-25 06:12 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
I have nothing really substantive to add to this post, but it did make me think. My sister's father is Chinese. Interestingly, she does not look Chinese, but rather "Hispanic" (which may be more of a problem for her now, living in AZ). Anyway, my sister didn't grow up at all with her father, but with the rest of my all-white family. This is not a subject I have broached with her, but this is a subject I have wondered about with trans-racial adoption as well, namely, growing up having no connection to one's racial background, and the effect that has on a person.

on 2010-09-26 02:06 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile]
*general principle hugs*


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